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Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy Paperback – May 1, 2008
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We progressives have all sensed it, in various ways. Many on OpEdNews have complained about the excesses of Ann Coulter. I have written about Republican Rage. Now, Jeffrey Feldman, author of Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation (and Win Elections), and editor of the blog, Frameshop, uses his background in Cultural Anthropology to take on the violent rhetoric of the Right straight on. In Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy, Feldman takes us through the endless supply of violent metaphors offered up to us by the likes of Coulter, as well as Pat Buchanan, James Dobson, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, Bill O'Reilly, Jon Gibson, and Dinesh D'Souza.
Along with the liberal use of terms like "war" and "murder," Feldman shows how Right-wing pundits use their violent terminology in the service of bizarre theories that turn history on its head. Thus, we "learn" that:
* Raising children with guns is the key to fighting school shootings;
* Mexicans crossing the border are motivated - not by economic necessity - but by revenge for the loss of Texas!, and their presence threatens our very civilization;
* Liberals wants "'lots of 9/11's`" and Democrats through history have been in cahoots with murderous dictators;
* The ACLU is a fascist organization, George Lakoff is a communist, and some liberal bloggers are comparable to Nazis and the KKK;
* Good parenting requires inflicting physical pain on children and teaching them to hit back in school, and homosexuality is prevented by fathers - who have inflicted such pain - taking showers with their sons;
* 9/11 was somehow simultaneously caused by al Qaeda's anger at - and collaboration with - American liberals, and Abu Ghraib was caused by divorce!
In each case, beyond merely citing the violent language used, Feldman identifies the issue that is ignored by the rush to a violent frame - offering a new frame in the process.
I found it fascinating to see how some early movements on the Right breathed new life into their cause when they adopted a violent frame. Feldman also explains how today's rhetoric harkens back to earlier - sometimes outright bigoted - screeds.
On the other hand, I found Dobson's views on parenting most disturbing. Feldman's connection between those views and Dobson's political worldview dovetail nicely with George Lakoff's work - it made me wonder, though, whether Lakoff's "strict father" frame should be re-named "abusive father!"
Ultimately, Feldman shows us what kind of government is created by the type of paranoia that these violent frames encourage. In the process, he examines the damage done to society when the electorate is too paralyzed by fear to argue back or think straight.
He concludes with suggestions for changing the way political discourse occurs in this country, without engaging in censorship.
While I'm perhaps more pessimistic than Feldman on the chance for change, his laying the groundwork for solving the problem is a valuable resource: clearly, we have our work cut out for us.
I've read Feldman for years on Daily Kos and elsewhere, and am always fascinated by the precise logic, crisp writing, and powerful "framing" that he brings to bear on just about any political subject.
Now, Feldman devotes a book to taking on leading "conservatives" like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, James Dobson, Wayne LaPierre, Pat Buchanan, and Bill O'Reilly. Honestly, it's hard to know which of these characters is the worst, as Feldman lays out a strong case for why each is particularly heinous in their own unique and wondrous way.
Thus, LaPierre frames everything in terms of violence, the ever-present threat of violence, and the utter inability of law, government, or collective institutions of any kind to protect us from that (essentially inevitable) violence. Flowing from that bizarre worldview comes the only possible conclusion: you're on your own, they're coming to harm you, and you'd better be armed to the teeth when they do. As Feldman explains, "What LaPierre suggests is...a full-scale military escalation of civil society." Just as bad, LaPierre boils everything down to a false dichotomy -- a common strategy of right-wing political language - in which the only two choices are either "(A) we allow individuals the "right to carry" guns or (B) we allow criminals to make victims of more and more Americans." That's it, end of discussion. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what the Wayne LaPierres of the world wanted in the first place. How convenient.
And on and on it goes, from Pat Buchanan's "constant narrative on the death of American civilization at the hands of a new Barbarian invasion" (from Mexico, that is) to Ann Coulter's bizarre claim that "the American left had been fighting and concealing its designs to destroy America for over half a century," to - perhaps most disturbingly of all - James Dobson's violent, sex-obsessed and pain-laden "fear and punishment rhetoric" aimed at undermining any possibility of a "common good" in American society.
At this point, you might be thinking, "how depressing, why would I want to read this?" For starters, despite the disturbing subject matter, Feldman's skills as a writer make this is actually a highly enjoyable book to read - almost a "page turner," if you can believe it. Second, Feldman doesn't just lay out the evils of the right-wing pundits he discusses in his book, he also lays out "six suggestions to resolve the problem of violent language in the American political media." Finally, as Feldman writes at the end of his book, "[w]e cannot, as Orwell warned, 'change this all in a moment'" but "we can change one political debate at a time with the simple act of making new choices about how to write and speak." This book will help us do so.
That's why concerned citizens should read Outrageous Barbarous by Jeffrey Feldman: to know the extent of the right wing's reckless hyperbole, to understand why using language that "takes no prisoners" bullies the rest of us from thoughtful dialogue on paramount problems, and gives us insight on how to counter those efforts without resorting to the same tactics, or abridging anyone's speech.
Feldman's book is an excellent and clear essay on violent rhetoric as carefully documented on seven or eight key issues - rhetoric so extravagant and voluminous that it sweeps against the public like recurring tsunamis, and, like them, washes away collected reasoning and dry wit.
There are several key thoughts like `community', `pragmatism' and `common good' that Feldman develops to great advantage, but none so clarifying and poignant to describe that which is lacking in the right wing barrage as the word, 'deliberative'.
Recapturing the process of putting one foot ahead of another is this wonderful concept of deliberating, and the author shares some of his reasoned ideas in returning us to a deliberative process. A must read for those still reeling from Rambo rhetoric and for those who want to take steps for a "kinder, gentler America."